Sock Colors

It’s not easy to determine how much we should bring God into our daily lives. It is not always clear how much God is already doing in our daily lives.

Some believe that everything is God’s will. That every action, experience, and event exists under the theology umbrella of God is in control. That nothing I think, feel, or do is outside his purpose. For example–if I put on light brown socks, then God willed that I did so. Everything is God’s will because God willed it to happen. 

Others hold to a broader belief that God imbues us with free will. For example–it doesn’t matter to God what color of socks I wear. He has given that choice to me, and no action of the Spirit will influence my sock decision.

The middle ground might be that every thought and behavior can be divinely influenced by engaging the Father in every decision. For example–before getting dressed, I ask the Father to guide me in my sock decision. The Lord may not care about my sock color, but maybe it pleases him that I asked. 

Must each of us decide how much divine input will permeate our daily lives? 

Things For Which We Seek Divine Help

  1. When we, or someone we know, is sick
  2. Concerns about family, especially one of the kids
  3. Job situations, unemployment, or changing jobs
  4. Significant decisions that give us anxiety
  5. Extreme financial difficulties

Things For Which We Typically Don’t

  1. Sock colors
  2. Where to eat lunch
  3. Buying new jeans
  4. Watching the Texans or the Cowboys
  5. Cream or no cream in our coffee

I am aware. There is an odd overabundance of sock references in this blog. Maybe I should have prayed about it? (Sorry, I couldn’t help it.) 

Each of us chooses how much we include God in daily life. Or, put another way, how much we involve Him in our daily decisions. Will it be a lot, or not? 

If you are like me, then you have sometimes struggled with the freedom that God provides. Over the years, I have developed a “spiritual self-reliance.” Have you also? It is something like this: I know God and love him and acknowledge that he is essential, but by and large, I go about each day within my “spiritual” self-sufficiency, a morally based self-reliance. Or is that a contradiction in terms? Doesn’t scripture say that it is not within a man to direct his own steps? 

It’s as if I am saying, “God, I’ve got this, I can handle the sock color, the lunch location, and the football game. But if something vital comes along, then I will be in touch, and if it is something scary, then I will definitely be talking with you, I guarantee it.” Sound familiar? 

Once again, as I opened the blog, it’s not easy to determine how much we should bring God into our lives. It’s not always clear just how much God is already doing in our lives. 

But I’ll leave you with Philippians 4:4-7, 13

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. and the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” 

Embedded within those verses is the freedom to choose my socks and the encouragement to have a total God dependency in my life, and to expereince jubilant joy while doing so.

Shalom

Singing the Blues!

I may have the post-Christmas, yard decoration pack up, three-tree tear down, 437 plastic bins and boxes blues.

Here I am at 4:30 in the blessed A.M. writing a blog on a day off. I am not in the office today, nor will I be making phone calls. There are no emails or texts to send. And if any are received, I probably won’t know since I have no intention of checking my phone; it’s a day off.

Nevertheless, I have the post-Christmas, Monday morning blues. So blue that doing any of the aforementioned tasks seems unlikely. Not to suggest that they don’t need doing or that doing them wouldn’t result in making my wife exceedingly glad; for it would.

But no. You see, I have the blues.

Some say there are two kinds of people: those emotionally oriented and those who are not. I am of the former and have always been. It’s neither good nor bad, admirable nor avoidable. It is what it is, and I am it.

I relate to the world on an emotional level. Most men are the opposite; they connect on an intellectual level. Occasionally they will stumble into an emotion beyond the euphoria of a team winning or an animal expiring. I get the team winning thing, but the other alludes me; it always has. Not that I haven’t tried. I’ve killed rabbits, quail, and doves and I’ve gone deer and varmint hunting. Don’t get me wrong; I have no moral issues or issues of conscience about shooting animals, it just isn’t for me. My greatest outdoor passion, actually my only one, is fly fishing in mountain rivers and streams. I’ve caught and kept fish from saltwater, but the last freshwater trout I kept was 40 years ago. I always release them.

What does any of that have to do with post-Christmas Monday morning blues? Nothing at all. But this style of blogging, this stream of consciousness, fills my time and keeps me preoccupied, which justifies not packing up another year of Christmas.

I’ve often wondered if Jesus got the blues. Do you think he might have? Did he ever wake up and think, “No, not today.” Or did he ever blow off the afternoon schedule and go fishing with the apostles? Maybe? Maybe not? Jesus probably did the right thing, regardless of how exhausted or emotionally drained. I admire him for that.

Maybe some of this is my fault? Given the year that we are about to finish, it wouldn’t be surprising to feel depleted, empty, and lacking the energy to get up and get busy.

In writing this blog, it occurred that I left 75% of my 2020 vacation time unused. Why didn’t I use my vacation time? Sounds silly not to. Maybe I just felt it was never a good time to be gone? Perhaps it wasn’t? Was it my emotional self making poor decisions?

Anyway, I’ll close this blog, giving praise and glory to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, for as far as I can tell, he never allowed fatigue or the blues to keep him from doing what needed to be done.

Can you imagine Jesus saying to himself,
“Uh, I don’t feel up to dying on the cross today. I had a bad night’s sleep, and the people have been gobbling up my time and energy. Perhaps I’ll see how I feel in the morning.”

Me either. Boxes and bins here I come. After all, you outside lights aren’t going to pack yourselves.

What would a 6-year-old say?

If you surveyed a dozen people about the true meaning of Christmas, would you get a dozen different responses? Might some of them be like this:

  1. A national holiday observing a rich heritage 
  2. A special occasion with family and close friends
  3. An annual day for giving and sharing
  4. A beautiful season of lights, decorations, and traditions
  5. A religious observance based on the Christian faith

WOULD the ages of those responding influence their replies? Would a six-year-old say something different than a sixty-year-old? 

NOTICE the word “true.” Not just the meaning, but the true meaning. Is there a difference? I believe there is since Christmas is observed both as secular and religious. However, if we assign partiality to the spiritual, then what is the true meaning of Christmas from that perspective? 

  1. Is it about a baby?  
  2. How about the star? 
  3. The angels and shepherds?
  4. Fulfillment of OT prophecies? 
  5. Something to do with God? 

TRUE demands that nothing be false. So, the meaning must be real, not a vague story with warm and fuzzy feelings. I have nothing against warm and fuzzy providing it’s based on something authentic.

FOR me, the reality of Christmas is rooted in Immanuel’s truth, that God came to his people. That he arrived as the infant king of kings and became the Lord of Lords to set us back at one with the Father.

THE one who came was born to die. He entered this dark world with the divine light of illuminated truth. He left to give us the greatest gift ever given: the Holy Spirit.

My true meaning of Christmas: Jesus Christ, God’s anointed, came to save us. 

Shalom

Because of the Kids

In addition to being a minister and pastor, I am also a writer. I have written two books, “Jesus Our Messiah,” examining the Old Testament to see how Jesus became the Messiah, and “Odd Uncle Charlie, a book about the Holy Spirit. This spring, “Diving In” will be released, it’s about God’s transformational power through the new birth.

But lately, I have had a growing interest in writing for children. If you follow my blog, you know that kids are a frequent topic. Over the years they have become more important to me, and maybe it is because I do not have grandchildren. Anyway, I have lots of friends who are children and I wrote a book for them.

It is a story about Chunky, a curious raccoon, and Chester, an energetic little squirrel. Their first adventure discovers the true meaning of Christmas. Our little friends find a way to travel back in time to see the infant King and to learn about why he came. Each book to come will focus on an exciting Bible story that kids know and love.

The series will promote respect, good character, and the value of friendship. Each one will encourage faith and help instill a growing awareness of God’s love.

This First Volume
Chunky and Chester’s Fantastic Adventures
Book One: Discovering the meaning of Christmas

Chunky and Chester’s Fantastic Adventures.

If interested, you can order a copy by clicking the link below and follow the Event Registration Tab at the top, and it will take you to my books.

www.southeastonline.org

For those who are local, the book will be available this Sunday at the Southeast church.

God bless you, and have a very Chunky Christmas!

An Actual Christmas Event!

This past year seems like one long disappointment. Trips, vacations, sports events, family reunions, and many other activities have been canceled. The primary reason has been the concern of COVID-19 spreading to others and ourselves.

We are beyond tired of wearing masks, and as the days roll on, of hearing conflicting reports regarding their effectiveness. Cases have spiked just about everywhere, and the pandemic remains a significant contributor to the demise of many. 

Even so, the nation moves forward. We are working because not working creates certain problems of another kind. We are flying on planes, taking taxis, using Uber, and going places again. The masks and social distancing remain intact but are no longer the restricting force they once were.

As was the case on Saturday when our church held an event. It was called “A Storybook Christmas” and was attended by young families who yearned for something normal, for something fun that COVID wasn’t going to cancel. The event was well planned and respected safety protocols. 

The Event

  • a Christmas story was read to the children
  • tables were set up for each family to enjoy holiday crafts
  • decorating Christmas cookies was a lot of fun
  • a photo op with Santa, but no sitting on Santa’s lap please

It was fun, and everyone had a good time. Parents got pictures of their kids with Santa, appropriately distanced. But Covid took it in the teeth on this one. A Storybook Christmas didn’t get canceled and it was a sweet event for young families with young children. It happened, and it was glorious.

It reminded me of some other things:

  1. Noah finished the ark, as difficult as it was, and saved his family from a threat that lay dormant for so long and then flooded upon the scene. 
  2. Abraham and Sara waited for God to fulfill his promise to give them a son. It got tricky a time or two, but still, they waited and received what had been assured to them. 
  3. Hannah was grieved and hurt. She asked God to give her a son and remove her shame and bitterness of soul. He did, and she named him Samuel. 
  4. The world waited for redemption. At times patiently, and at times the other thing. But come it did, gloriously and beautifully. And each year, we remember the story and are reminded of how great it was that our God came near. He was Immanuel, the Son of God.

Not everything happens on the day, month, or year of our desire. It often happens in His moment, and so we wait in faith, trusting that he will keep his word and fulfill his promise. 

We wait still. We wait for redemption from a world often characterized by heartache and heartbreak. This world has many problems and troubles, and at times we groan for the day when we are relieved by his reveal. 

Will it be today? It might.

Anyway, this past Saturday, we got to do something sweet, fun, and exciting. The dreaded COVID did’nt not knock it down, beat it up, or force it out. 

Hang in there. The things we dread will not defeat us. They will not render us sad and bitter. They will not be the final word. God will have the last word, and it will be one of eternal promise.

Have a blessed day!

The Children Were Shouting

Yesterday morning, in our Family Service, we experienced something extraordinary. Our Family Minister gave her weekly Children’s Moment, a brief lesson geared for younger kids that reflects the sermon theme. She does it well, and it blesses the children and not a few adults. It is well received and popular. 

What was extraordinary was that maybe eight to ten young boys and girls had been recorded reading scripture. Our Family Minister told the story about Mary and Elizabeth’s sons’ miraculously coming into the world. As she spoke, she would pause, and one of the kids appeared on the screens to read verses from Matthew and Luke. Then she continued and would pause for another child to read, and so on until she was finished. 

It was one of the sweetest moments I’ve ever experienced in a worship service. It was beautiful, enriching, and so very encouraging. I was proud of the kids. It made me emotional, and I was still moved when I stood to deliver my lesson. 

Some Observations

  1. Our Children’s Minister is very creative.
  2. The children who participated were fantastic. 
  3. Their parents were filled with joyous pride. 
  4. It would have never happened in the church of my youth.

Of the many reasons I love Jesus, here is one of my favorites–that he looked for what was right instead of what was wrong.

In the heritage of my spiritual roots exists an idea that anything different was wrong. That anything unordinary was suspect. That anything encouraging, edifying, and uplifting but out of the ordinary was automatically rejected. Children would not have been allowed to participate in the worship service, and indeed not the girls. 

Paul wrote, 

“test everything, hold on to the good, and avoid every kind of wrong.” 

He also wrote,

” Everything may be permissible, but not all things edify.” 

His perspective was to look for the good, to find the riches of encouragement and comfort. And if something didn’t build people up, or encourage them, then don’t do it. It may not be wrong in itself, but if it lacks real spiritual value, why do it? 

What a gloriously enriching idea. Look for something’s worth by its capacity to benefit others. Perhaps hundreds of times, I have heard from church leaders about an idea or suggestion, “Well, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with it.” That was the litmus test, was there anything wrong with it. 

Granted, if there is something wrong, then it needs to be recognized as such. But can we turn it upside down, turn it 180 degrees to first look for the good in something?

Paul also wrote,

“Everyone who speaks (within the context of worship) must speak for the strengthening, encouragement, and comforting of others.”

TO CLOSE

I want all things to point to HIM! I aim to remain rooted in the center of HIS heart. And our hearts should be aflame with the Spirit of God as we praise and glorify his son. 

When children were shouting Hossana to Jesus, the strict and strenuous leaders found fault with it, couldn’t see the good, only saw that it was wrong, and chastised Jesus for what the children were doing. 

Jesus didn’t stop them.

The Christmas Place

Thanksgiving was four days ago, and it’s only twenty-five days until Christmas. Indeed, we are firmly rooted in the rich and fertile soil of the Holidays with all the unavoidable demands. 

Some of the unavoidable demands:

  • over-crowded stores, are there any? 
  • dings in my car door by careless people
  • shoppers rushing and crushing with impunity 
  • catalogs I don’t want from stores I’ve never heard of
  • landfills of daily mail yearning for my holiday dollars

The truth is I don’t shop in stores, and I avoid malls at all costs. My car door doesn’t get dinged, nor do I get rushed and crushed by rude shoppers. I rarely get holiday-induced headaches. But the landfill of seasonal mail and catalogs remains. 

Yesterday, I was asked this question:

“What would happen this Christmas if Amazon went out of business?”

The question subdued me, the prospect being too terrifying to imagine. 

On review, it sounds like I am a modern Ebenezer Scrooge. I assure you it isn’t true. You would need to search far and wide to find someone who loves Christmas any more than I do.

Some of what I love most about Christmas:

  • colors, lights, trees, and decorations 
  • awareness of his birth and nativity scenes
  • Christmas Eve service with candle lighting
  • celebrating with friends, coworkers, and my church
  • Christmas with family

 I have been to Bethlehem several times. It sits a few miles south of Jerusalem, and if you visit the Holy Land, the tour will likely take you there. It is a town of 25,000 people and bears little resemblance to the relatively small village in which our savior was born. 

Of course, there is a church standing over the traditional site where Jesus is believed to have been born; it is the Church of the Nativity. You enter the church, are lead to stairs, and walk down until you reach a cave-like room and stand in line. When your turn arrives, you get on your knees to look inside the covered place he is thought to have been placed at birth. 

The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem

Inside the Nativity Church

I don’t know if it’s the place or not. There isn’t enough archaeology to verify it historically. But it could have been. To me, it didn’t feel like the place, but what value do my feelings have? Then you go back upstairs and eventually exit the rather massive church structure. At that moment, you must do something; you must look to your right where you will see the hills of ancient Judea, the fields of Bethlehem. Standing there, I could so easily imagine shepherds keeping watch over their flocks at night. As I did, the birth of Christ felt real to me. I can’t explain why; it just did.

The Hills of Ancient Judea, the Fields of Bethlehem

To Close

So, get online, or brave the real world of stores, and get the gifts for your loved ones. As you do, please take a moment to remember that the presents we give at Christmas are based on the Magi presenting gifts to the infant savior. 

Me? I love Christmas. 

The Hands Have It?

To make a point, I used an illustration that may not have hit the mark. It was a pair of questions asked for effect, and here they are:

“Would you hug your children without using your arms and hands?”

“Would you hug your parents without using your arms and hands?”

 The answer to both is no; we wouldn’t. The questions are better illuminated in the context of worship, of how we reach out to God. 

Psalm 63:4

“I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.” 

Psalm 134:2

“Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the Lord.” 

Lamentations 3:41

“Let us lift up our hearts and our hands to God in heaven…”

In his Psalms, King David had a constant emphasis on lifting hands in worship. Did David imagine reaching out to embrace God; perhaps expressing the sentiments of this chorus from Hillsong Worship, 

“Here I am to worship; here I am to bow down, here I am to say that you’re my God.” (chorus: “Here I Am To Worship”)

It’s a picture of arms and hands extended with the heartfelt hope of touching the face of God. King David would never have embraced his Lord without using his arms and hands. So, why would we? 

As odd as it seems, I was raised in a church culture that didn’t believe in emotions— that “emotional worship” created subjective doctrine. So, emotions were kept out. 

One application was that hands in worship were for holding hymnals. There was no clapping or raising of hands, not ever. It was more than frowned upon; it was expressly forbidden. It was such a strong tradition that to clap in worship was considered sinful. Generations were taught to uphold these beliefs. We believed we were more right than other churches who had turned their worship into an emotional freefall of sinful behavior.  

Resulting from more than a century of such teaching were generations of members afraid of clapping and mortified at the thought of raising their hands in worship. 

Odd, isn’t it? While equipping our members to condemn the use of hands in worship, we abandoned the scriptures affirming using hands in praise. Did we cut off our noses to spite our faces? In our sincere attempt to be more right than others, we ended up being more wrong by ignoring what scripture had to say. Traditions quickly become rooted in the soil of our hearts. Once implanted, they become heritage, and heritage becomes a legacy and a defining element in our core beliefs. Those who follow may fail to see the difference between truth and tradition. At that point, something important is perilously close to being lost.

Please read carefully: Choosing not to raise hands in worship isn’t sinful. However, choosing to judge the ones who do is sinful.

Isaiah 55:12

“You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” 

This verse reminds me of Jesus in the last week of his life. It was Passover week, and in the temple courts, children were shouting, “Hosanna to the Highest,” in reference to Jesus. The religious legacy types took exception and essentially rebuked Jesus for allowing the children to say such things. They asked if he heard what the children were saying and implied that he should get them to stop. His response was essentially this: “Yes, I hear them, no, I won’t stop them. If they are silent, the stones will cry out.” 

Let’s take note, along with the Isaiah text:

  • the mountains will burst out in song
  • the hills will burst out in song
  • the trees will clap their hands
  • the children will shout Hossana
  • and if not, the stones will shout out praise 

What about us? Will we remain content to sit silently and worship quietly? The heavens proclaim the glory of God, so why aren’t we? For what are we waiting? 

God is waiting for us to get past our hang-ups, our inhibitions, and to put to rest the decades of unfounded rules and judgments. 

Easier said than done? I know. It has been for me too. But I am making progress and enjoying freedom in my worship that I have longed for but been afraid to do. 

TO CLOSE

The stones shouldn’t have to give the praise that God wants from me.

Would you hug your heavenly father without smiling, warmth, or using your arms and hands? 

David wouldn’t.

Where Did My Happiness Go?

People kept saying that things would get back to normal when the elections were over. The elections were seventeen days ago, and other than my phone no longer blowing up with unwanted political texts, emails, and calls, nothing seems normal.

A friend was telling me about some struggles. Some were personal, and some were work-related. The word happy found its way into the conversation. Is happiness a choice; can we choose it or not.

Do some of us choose sadness? 

My friend mentioned there used to be more happy days. Now, there are more sad ones. I agreed with my friend, realizing I felt the same. There is a longing to be happy again, a returning to a time when we don’t feel so heavy- burdened and discouraged. Will it ever return? 

Our world is different. To me, it seems upside down, and I can’t exactly explain what that means.

At the very least, this past year has been challenging. 

  • Covid-19 with all of its ups and downs. 
  • Race riots, social upheaval, violence, and anger.
  • Financial reversals, foreclosures, and bankruptcies. 
  • Joblessness, lay-0ffs, spiking unemployment. 
  • Quarantines, families unable to gather, events canceled.

Just as we hoped for an uptick after the elections, people are now expecting better times in the new year. Will the turning of the calendar coincide with a miracle restoring us to a better whatever? Is that true hope or child-like superstition? We know that the only thing that will genuinely change from December 31 to January 1 is getting a day older.

But that doesn’t stop us from saying things like, 

“I can’t wait for this year to be over; it has been the worst year ever.” 

And yet, 2020 could easily duplicate in 2021. The pandemic is nowhere close to being extinguished or curable. Our social unrest will not suddenly be resloved as if a magic wand had been waved over the issues. We yearn for the economy to improve, but we also know it could deteriorate further.

About now, you are asking,

“Good grief, is there anything positive to offer?”

My answer is yes.

My answer is based on faith. None of us has any power within ourselves to make things better. But believers have power from divine sources. We have the gift of the Holy Spirit as well as the higher will and purpose of God. And that should matter to us. It should provide a living hope.

My challenge has been adjusting to a lesser lifestyle, of accepting fewer choices and smaller opportunities. I want my church to flourish again. I long to see the hundreds of people who stay in their homes on Sundays and watch online. I long for the day when the hundreds who are coming in person to no longer wear masks or be socially distant. 

Our usual is walking into stores, shops, and restaurants without masks or concerns. It’s visiting family and friends in the hospitals and seeing sporting events packed with fans. Normal is getting our jobs back and working to provide for our loved ones.

Yet, our heavenly father knows all this. In some sense, my challenge is less with God and more with being an entitled American coping with the idea of life in the “home of the brave and the land of the free” being a bit harder and less convenient. 

However,

  1. Am I suffering to the point of shedding blood? 
  2. Do I go to bed with an empty stomach? 
  3. Is my home a house of tarps with a mud floor? 
  4. Will my family face the fear of violent, religious persecution? 
  5. Are my loved ones at risk for dysentery, cholera, or starvation?

No, those things I don’t have to worry about.

I’ll finish with the words of one who knew suffering more intimately and immensely than anyone I’ve ever known or heard of. 

Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said, “Naked, I came from my mother’s womb and naked I will depart. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” 

In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.

Job 1:20-22

God bless you all. Have a good weekend. 

Do I Look Taller in Person?

She was adorable, cute, and twelve years old. She walked up and said, 

“Mr. Rick, you look taller in person.” 

I wasn’t sure what she meant, so clarification was requested. She offered again, 

“You look taller in person.”

She was smiling when she said it, and hers was a heart-melting smile.

I wondered about the following:

  1. Did I look taller because we were closer?  
  2. Had she seen me on TV in a live stream service?
  3. Was it possible that I had suddenly grown three inches?
  4. Was I wearing my shoes with elevated heels?  
  5. Do I have any shoes with elevated heels? 

I decided the reason didn’t matter. What did matter was that this precious girl felt comfortable saying it. So, I replied with, “Thank you, sweetie.” It was a fun moment.

If you follow my blog, then you know that children are often featured in my posts. The reason is that kids are my favorite people. Over the forty years that I have been in ministry, I have discovered that in much the same manner as Jesus, children have become significant to me. Among other things, they make me smile and warm my heart. 

Yes, I love their parents too, but parents are grown-ups and have lived long enough to become a mess, just like me. There are some excellent reasons that Jesus often preferred kids:

  1. Once they know you, you have a friend for life. 
  2. Innocense is bound in the hearts of children. 
  3. They are buckets of fun. 
  4. Children love to laugh.
  5. The kingdom of God belongs to them. 

From Mark 9:36-37

He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me.”

From Mark 10:13-14

People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”

From Mark 10:16

And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them, and blessed them.

In no way am I comparing myself to Jesus. But I am comparing myself with Jesus. Children were essential to him. Not because they were cute and fun and adorable, but because they were the rightful citizens of the kingdom he came to build. 

Finally, from Isaiah 59:21

“My Spirit, who is on you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will not depart from your mouth, or the mouths of your children, or from the mouths of their descendants from this time on and forever,” says the Lord.

Children are the hope of future generations. They were to Jesus, and they are to me too. 

She said I look taller in person. She was so sweet. 

Shalom